Friday 29th July 2020
Michael has always been an obsessive. As teenagers he would make me sit and listen to something that he’d dragged in from Freebird. Over and over he’d play it, stopping to enthuse over some bizarre change in mood or dynamic. John Foxx, Gary Neuman, Renaissance and Clannad. There was weirder stuff but I think he realised how much I could take even then. If you have the right background and are of a "certain age” you’ll hear echoes of Sidney Sager’s theme for the utterly terrifying Children of the Stones and Ligeti’s clouds of vocals from "2001: A Space Odyssey".
We began as singers way before that with our unforgettable rendition of the "Jake the peg" in front of the entire school of St Michael’s College. 35 years later we still get reminded by former schoolmates of the two tiny twins sellotaped together on the gymnasium stage. We then went our separate ways musically, apart from his insistence on regularly confounding me with whatever strange new band or piece of music he felt the need to share with me. Bizarrely some of my music rubbed off on him, enough of it for him to ask me to sing "Mysterious Ways" for the launch of U2’s "Achtung Baby" in 1991 on a freezing November morning on Grafton Street. He hadn’t a clue what he was at no more than I did. However that was the morning that An Uaithne became Anuna. Suddenly we had farmers, doctors and traditional singers auditioning.
Before the release of the album Anuna in 1993 it was commonplace to see Elvis Costello or Larry Mullan Jr. peering back at you from a tiny audience. It became a cult in Ireland and impossible to categorise. Largely ignored by the mainstream we were lucky to have a truly sophisticated and musically unpretentious audience for those early years. As they passed the music grew and developed into something that still retains the edginess and secretiveness that allows Anúna to be discovered by a new generation. A footnote to this would be one terrific memory I have of doing a corporate concert in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham in 2006. I decided that, because of the fabulous acoustic in the Chapel [where we recorded part of Invocation], we would really push the audience and do the less accessible but beautiful Ardaigh Cuan. At after-dinner events it is always a risk when your audience is full of expensive food and wine to do something that will stretch them. Just as the piece tapered to a thunderous close a single figure jumped up in the middle of the room wearing shades. “Rockin’! shouted Bono “Rockin’ man!”. We sang at his 48th birthday a few years later as a gift to him from a close friend who said "Since he saw you perform he has never stopped banging on about you!".
It says a lot for a composer that he considers each album to be the defining one. Our current release “Sanctus” includes the “Crucifixus” and the fabulous “Allegri Miserere”. The decision to put two of the greatest early works on an Anuna album has brought Michael’s music to a new level of maturity. The simultaneous release of the stunning DVD “Invocations” has wrapped up the last 10 years of the group into a single defining audio-visual record. Filmed, directed and edited by Michael himself, the door is now open to a future based on hugely solid foundations.
From year to year we find and develop new singers. The average age of the group has dropped 5 years in the last 10. It has become extremely important for us to have answers to their questions.
Where do you start explaining to a 19 year old about the history and development of something for which there is no frame of reference anywhere in the world?
The journey has been remarkable. Arguing with the technical staff of the Albert Hall about putting Anuna into the middle of a 5000 strong audience for the Proms during a solar eclipse; listening to the eerie footsteps of the singers on the walkways in Kilmainham Gaol as the heterophony of Jerusalem filled this historic and tragic place; Basque waiters and kitchen staff crying as they give us an ovation in the corridor after a concert in the Armada Museum in Barcelona; birds singing over our heads in a great tree in a palace in Fes, Morocco; a huge shout of “GOAL!!!” in the middle of an outdoor concert in Southern Spain: corpsing as the MC falls off the stage in Gothenburg and no one being able to intone the Media Vita; Michael complaining about Sting’s Irish pronunciation during the recording of Mo Gille Mear with the Chieftains and Paddy Moloney trying not to laugh; a “who can sing the highest“ competition (Michael says he won) with the late Jeff Buckley in the toilets of the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 1994; opening night of Riverdance on St.Patrick's Day in Radio City New York in the snow; good-natured heckling by a lone Scots-American at the Belfast Proms in 2002 in front of 14,000 people; singing to a rush-hour crowd in the Subte (Subway) in Buenos Aires on a state visit with President McAleese. Countless memories with no chronology, linked by Michael’s music and all part of a great story that doesn’t show any sign of drawing to a close.
Tonight’s programme encompasses the 22 years of Michael’s works. It’s a chance to hear new pieces like St. Francis and eight works from the rarely performed Behind the Closed Eye, including my favourite piece Where all Roses go dedicated to Jeff Buckley.
Eighteen years after joining I find myself writing the notes for this very special concert with Anuna’s pulsating version of the Allegri Miserere playing in the background.
Late in 1989 Michael nervously handed me a strange little tape covered in his own very careful calligraphy with the words “An Uaithne” on the front and spine. I was an Architectural student drawing into the early hours most nights. As obsessive as my twin I played nothing else for a year. I couldn’t believe it when he asked me to join the group I still can’t.
30th June 2009